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added June 27

On Being Led Out of the Cellar
by Brian Donohue


Ours is a culture of violence: we breed it, export it, sow it and reap it, aggrandize it, and turn to it in every crisis. Our governmental leaders speak blandly of their peaceful aims as they spread the pall of war across the globe. A respected scientific journal in Europe recently estimated that the United States military has killed upwards of 100,000 people in Iraq over the past two years, even as the putative justification for that slaughter has been proved illusory. The mass media mouthpiece of our government gratefully exalts the cult of violence, and for the most transparent of reasons: violence sells . Ask any news reporter whether he'd rather be at a murder scene or an art opening, and if he knows where his bread is buttered, he'll pick the murder every time. In his epochal films, Bowling for Columbine and Fahrenheit 9/11 , director Michael Moore exposes this violence-infatuation on the part of the mass media by revealing news reporters and newsmakers in the act of preening and preparing themselves to announce the violence of the day to a ravenous audience hungry for news of death and depredation.

This is the substance of the learning our children are exposed to, even before they enter their first day of school: a government that condones and actively practices torture, murder, occupation, and thievery, and a mass media that gleefully reports the destruction in the most minute detail allowable by the authorities; and then creates fictional or semi-fictional variations on the theme in the form of action dramas, reality TV and 'extreme sport.' It has reached such a point now that it's crossed traditional boundaries of gender: it is now reasonable to expect that a female shooter will soon turn up in some high school, now that women GI's have been observed flaunting violence and perversion in the prisons of Abu Ghraib and Guantanamo.

But there is even more to this than the perpetuation of violence as a panacea for personal or international crisis, or the hypocrisy of the pharmaceutical balm as a response to a behavioral challenge. What is truly disturbing about this societal trend is the fundamental prejudice it belies against our own future -- the children. The extraordinary American poet, Robert Bly, speaks of this pervasive racism against children that is developing in our culture, in his Preface to News of the Universe :

"The United States, during World War II, found that by dint of the practical intellect it could produce a hundred tanks a day and twenty B-52s; by doing so, the U.S. established itself as a world power. Something new was born, but if you don't invite Nature to your baptism, the baby will be cursed.

Saints say that if we could only take one step beyond the practical intellect -- to the spiritual intellect -- we could honor Nature because we then would realize that the whole universe is shot through with some sort of generous and luminous consciousness.

Certainly many people in our country do respect the spiritual intellect in these last decades. But in the meantime, business has effectively become the government and now rules American life on all levels, even to choosing the presidential candidates and allowing them currency. Business derives from the practical intellect, works out of it, judges by it; and our government shows less evidence of generosity now than at anytime in American history.

Much of the literature that the United States produces in 1995 is not generous. The culture reveals a huge anger against children. It is as if the adults envy children their closeness to the Nature we have rejected. Every year the government and private attitude toward children is meaner.

European culture in the seventeenth century dug a cellar into which the messy parts of the universe, among them pagans, Asians, Africans, and women, could be put. Now we have to say that the United States has put children in that cellar as well."

We cannot drag our children out of the cellar described by Robert Bly and expect success: what often goes under the heading of 'tough love' is merely another form of regimentation. It is the force that creates the marines who are returned to us in secret from Iraq and Afghanistan in flag-draped coffins. Even less can we expect our children to leave the cellar if we remain there ourselves. We have to be sure that we ourselves are free of the darkness; then, perhaps, the children will follow us out. Every other approach that I see in this culture is the social equivalent of applying a band aid to a stab wound. If we ourselves cannot live with modesty toward Nature and responsibility toward one another, then our children will carry our race further into the darkness of delusion, and each passing generation will bring us another step closer to extinction.

So the recommendations that follow are to be applied personally -- by parents and grandparents, teachers and babysitters, school administrators and government officials -- as the starting points on a path leading out of the abyss of self-hatred, conflict, and estrangement. But if you imagine that you can do this alone --either for yourself or for your child -- then you will probably slide back into despair after a brief and furious struggle. As with any other life process or transformative movement, there are guiding energies that lead the way forward. They must be called with a voice of humility and mindfulness. You may give this energy whatever name seems natural and meaningful to you: call on the Parenting Helper, the Teaching Spirit, the Transformation Guide, or another name that resonates with your true self. In a regular meditation, ask this Presence to lead you and your child out of fear and into strength; out of oppression and into independence; out of error and into clarity; out of arrogance and into modesty; out of poverty and into abundance; out of conflict and into love. Let this become a daily meditation that you can practice under almost any waking circumstances, for as brief or as long a session as feels right in the moment. As you go, see how the following suggestions fit into the personal understanding that develops as your connection with your Guides deepens.

Call upon the guiding energy of a Discipline Helper. Enforcing good behavior in children through the kinds of fear-based allegiance referred to earlier is a military practice that is doomed to failure in the raising and teaching of children (and frankly, it doesn't work very well for soldiers either). To rely upon your own or your culture's means or instruments of discipline is to place yourself and your child under an impossible burden. Learn instead to abandon power-based solutions and ask for help from the guiding currents of invisible help that can successfully engage a child's natural sense of discipline and order. If you doubt that there is such a thing ('my kid wasn't in that line,' is an oft-heard lament of parents), look at how Nature arranges things: those senses of order, boundary, and self-maintenance are readily apparent in the animal realm. Our problem, as we saw in Chapter 3, is in our myopic obsession with appearances: there might be a two-ton truck sitting in our driveway, waiting to be driven, but if we can't kick its tires then it doesn't exist. But perhaps you have tried the way of forced order and iron discipline and found it terribly wanting for enduring results: so let go of your learned skepticism long enough to try something different. If you're having difficulty with conflict or behavioral problems in your child (this would account for about 99% of parents' experience at one time or another), let your meditations include a call to the Discipline Guide, and an earnest request that the natural energies of self-awareness and order arise and grow within your kid. Give it time and persistent, modest effort, and you may be amazed at the results.

Say a firm inner No to the notion of fixed 'phases and stages' in your child's growth . I find myself having to do this on a regular basis with regard to my daughter. It's not about anything that she says or does, but rather about what others -- even other parents -- tell me about what to expect from her. It seems with every passing birthday and the nearer approach of the beginning of adolescence, I am told to expect to be made a stranger, an enemy, a source of embarrassment, to my kid. It is inevitable, I hear: everyone must go through it. Where, I often wonder, does this stack of horsefeathers come from? Where do people get these aberrant notions, these self-fulfilling prophecies of estrangement? From college textbooks? From some self-appointed expert on Good Morning America? Or merely from the insidious and unquestioning breath of group belief? Any phrases or images that arise to you in this respect should be noted and treated with the same inner No practice that we've discussed in the previous two chapters. Children have lived and grown long before Freud, Melanie Klein, or Piaget built their respective architectures of theoretical molds. Approach your child's life as if it were a unique exception to every rule that's ever been written -- you will find, in fact, that it is.

Ask *for help in applying the outer corrections that will further your child's (and your own) growth. Such a request is necessary because the insight that will guide you is likely to be both fluid and personal to your family's circumstances and challenges; and you cannot receive that fluidity and uniqueness of response from a fixed system of belief -- you can only get it through the quantum reality of feeling-receptivity. You need to be aware of the cultural threats that surround you and your kids; then you have to ask to be guided by invisible teaching Presences in successfully encountering those dangers. For many of us, a big one is television: in The Sibling Society , Robert Bly calls it 'the thalidomide of the 1990s.' [2] He then cites a 1995 survey which revealed that kids spent on average a third of their waking lives watching TV. The main point is that we cannot restrict our kids from television if we are slaves to the box ourselves -- and the same observation applies to overeating, junk food addiction, video games, and telephone usage (especially the cellular phones -- how many people, both children and adults, spend hours per week talking on a device that was probably originally purchased -- just for emergencies??). In all such arenas of habit and addiction, we must be guided by patience, and a persevering attention to the invisible teaching Voices of the universe. Simply call for help in this regularly, and then open your awareness to the signs that appear before you. They often come in forms that we are trained to overlook or deny in annoyance, such as temporary power failures; breakdowns or defects in appliances or software; disturbing images that appear at seemingly inopportune moments; 'lost' devices such as remotes; or simply a cascade of conflict over permissions and usage. When you attend to the messages that these seemingly random coincidences bear within them, then you will find that they recur more often, teaching, nourishing, and inspiring both you and your kid. It will help if you talk about such events with your child whenever they appear to you, and you may be amazed after a while at how receptive kids are by nature to this kind of learning.

[1] Robert Bly,   News of the Universe: Poems of Twofold Consciousness (San  Francisco: Sierra Club Books, 1980/1995), pp. 1-2. Another book by Robert Bly  that is of direct interest to the topic of this chapter is The  Sibling Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1977/1996).
[2] Robert Bly, The Sibling  Society (New York: Vintage Books, 1977/1996), p. 139. Especially in  this book, Bly's voice is firm and strong, even to a point bordering on harshness. To any who can recall the tragedy of thalidomide, his  identification of that drug with TV will seem excessive; yet, his violent  metaphor notwithstanding, Bly's underlying point must be heard by every parent  in our culture -- and indeed, he offers sound support for this view in his  book.

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